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Barnett's excitement of making a wreath becomes sobering at Tomb of the Unknowns

By Jim Fair, Editor
Published on Wednesday, January 29, 2014

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Geoffrey Barnett and government teacher Ryan Stone chat about Greer Middle College Charter High School's trip to Arlington National Cemetery where Geoffrey had a wreath placed, that he made, at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Jim Fair

Geoffrey Barnett and government teacher Ryan Stone chat about Greer Middle College Charter High School's trip to Arlington National Cemetery where Geoffrey had a wreath placed, that he made, at the Tomb of the Unknowns.



Enlarge photo

Sarah Weaver and Geoffrey Barnett face Blue Poteat and Cameron Hepola, bottom, at the Tomb of the Unknowns as their classmates observe the placing of the wreath ceremony.
 
 
Blue Poteat and Cameron Hepola 

Photo Submitted

Sarah Weaver and Geoffrey Barnett face Blue Poteat and Cameron Hepola, bottom, at the Tomb of the Unknowns as their classmates observe the placing of the wreath ceremony.

 

 

Blue Poteat and Cameron Hepola 



Enlarge photo

The wreath made by Geoffrey Barnett is shown at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.

Photo Submitted

The wreath made by Geoffrey Barnett is shown at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.

Geoffrey Barnett at first didn’t take the invitation to make a wreath, to be placed at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, much differently than floral arrangements he had been asked to design for friends and brides.

“I thought that would be a great opportunity and something great to put on my resume,” said Barnett. The 18-year-old, after serving as an assistant at a florist, now routinely is asked to serve individuals and clients at The Poinsett Club and Cliffs at Glassy. He has two weddings scheduled this spring.

Barnett, a senior at Greer Middle College Charter High School (GMC), and 36 classmates, junior and seniors, traveled to Washington, D.C., for a four-day sightseeing tour earlier this month.  It also included participating in a wreath-laying ceremony.

Teachers Michelle Allen and Ryan Stone collaborated for more than a year with others on the trip’s itinerary. Allen, a government teacher, had made arrangements in the past to have memorials at historic landmarks.

The opportunity for the public to take part in wreath laying or other memorial services at Arlington National Cemetery is part of federal law. Requests are accepted six months to a year in advance of the group's visit, but must be submitted at least five weeks in advance.

Barnett, Sarah Weaver, Blue Poteat and Cameron Hepola were selected by the faculty as its sentinel for the ceremony. “There was no criteria to be selected,” Stone said. “We were asked to select the four we thought would represent our school the best.”

“I thought it would be awesome for any high school student to even lay a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknowns, yet alone make it,” Barnett said. “I made it at home and brought it in a box to D.C.”

Barnett chose Leyland cypress for the greenery, “because it grows well here. I had (24) white roses and the wreath had a blue ribbon,” Barnett said. “The blue, I thought, would be a good color because it was our school color – navy blue – and it was also the South Carolina blue. White was a good remembrance flower.”

Protecting the wreath was of utmost importance to Barnett. He protected it in a sturdy box, marked fragile, and provided a tube of water for each rose. It made the trip unscathed on the Amtrak to D.C, and on the metro and bus, despite Barnett’s worries the wreath would get lost or someone would fall on it.

Melanie Bargar is director of development at GMC. “It was a major effort that (Geoffrey) put it together and was able to carry it all the way. It was an honor for him and a privilege for the students.”

The entire significance of that event began to give Barnett pause. “It didn’t really sink in until I actually got the roses, clipped the greenery, and started the preparations for the wreath,” Barnett said. “I was really excited, but also I was kind of nervous. I wanted it to look really good because obviously it was going to be on a monument that is important to our country.”

The students visited the Tomb Squad Quarters and discussed, with a guard, the ceremony. “It was a simple room with closets and chairs,” Barnett said.

Stone said he observed the simplicity and discipline of the guards’ lives. “I saw one guard come off duty and he was carrying a plastic bin and all the latches were secured. I remember looking at that and thinking everything looked perfect, the shoes, and the clothes were folded perfectly. Nothing was shifting or moving. Even off duty the way they treated their gear was the way they reflected their responsibilities.”

Barnett, Weaver, Poteat and Hepola learned the discipline first hand. “We started with our left foot and all walked together, took a short pause, and then down a small flight of steps,” Burnett said. Burnett and Weaver walked forward with the wreath, presented it to a guard who walked it backward and then placed it on the ground. Taps played and all walked back up the stairs, leaving the lone guard at the tomb.

The reverence of the moment reminded Burnett of the historic significance. “I really felt kind of in awe when I first got there. I remember looking over the graves, thinking ‘wow’, there are so many people who gave their lives to our country and now they are here. This is where we come to remember them. And honor them.

“We had a lively group of students, but when we got to Arlington it was hushed. Everyone felt the weight of the place, and the presence was sobering.”

The ceremony was memorable also for the cold. Washington was experiencing single digit temperatures during the students’ visit. “It was so cold, and we were standing on marble the entire time,” Barnett said.

Stone had a personal stake in the trip. His grandfather, who fought in WWII, died two years ago at 91. “I have a few members of my family who are military and who have died recently. It was more of a personal moment to me and a remembrance of my family members who have passed recently.

I didn’t feel the urge, and I don’t think any of the students did either, to discuss it (Arlington National Cemetery). We had witnessed it and had felt the power of the moment. I think that was sufficient for us.”

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